From Literature to Journalism: Writing for Two

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Last week, I got to read my poem, “When the World Went Deaf,” to a group of student artists and faculty at the unveiling of The Kilgore Review. Ironically, I was asked to read the piece that didn’t win last year’s collegiate writing contest and not the piece that won, which was a short story I had originally written for myslexia magazine (a UK publication).

Figuring it was a quintessential American story, I submitted it to the writing contest, because what college students wouldn’t want to read about what happens when a girl sneaks in pot brownies and spikes the punch at a Mormon potluck?

It was a humor story, of course, which has become my favorite to write (as well as read). I’ve found that during my time in college, I am not only evolving as a person, but also as a writer and speaker/storyteller.

Creative writing will always be my first love, because I don’t have to depend upon anyone else to give me the story; if I do need to conduct research, I can find it with a few clicks.

I will always be a writer first, a reporter second, but more on that later.
Last time I read my poetry, I opened with a joke. This time, I ended the reading explaining what inspired the poem, which adds context and a more personal touch.
I have unilateral hearing loss, and I know I’ve missed out on things (which is why I am a shameless eavesdropper.) I probably look quite apt when someone is speaking, because I have to make a conscious effort to listen. That’s why I don’t notice people snoring behind me–I am too focused on what’s in front of me.

On “When the World Went Deaf,” I wondered what life would be like, how humans would adapt, if everyone was like me, more than I was like me (i.e. completely deaf). The film Perfect Sense, which epitomizes the cliché, “poetry in motion,” also inspired me.
I made sure to plug my story; when you use the words Mormons and pot (and mention that it was a first-place winner), you just might get people to read it.

I invited my mom because there was free food, and it was nice to have someone there who loved me with me. When my husband tells me he’s proud of me, it means a lot, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as when my parents say it; it’s not because I love them more, it’s just that way (I think) because we all have an inner child that never grows up.
We grow up, innately wanting to please our parents.

~

The next day was our journalism workshop.

So this Michael Koretzky (http://www.koretzky.com/) was the VIP, wearing a Che Guevera shirt (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara) with a monocle hanging from his neck. As soon as I saw him, I thought, this guy looks a bit intimidating (I usually only see other women as intimidating).

Within the first ten minutes, I could tell he was the type of person to psychoanalyze you, and that puts me on my guard. He didn’t care about our names–he just wanted to know what we did for the paper (some people didn’t know!), where we saw ourselves in 5-10 years (some were still figuring that out), and our favorite genetic/communicable disease (I chose Huntington’s chorea, because I’ve written two poems on it). https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/02/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-2-theme-secret/.

Some he referred to by our “favorite” diseases (glad I chose one most non-medical students have never heard of), but never by our name. I’m the type of person who feels humanized when people use my name, so I wasn’t crazy about this tactic, but it was creative. It did spark some interesting conversation, so perhaps that was the intent.

He said the people who had quick answers are those who are always reassessing what others think about them. I’m not sure that’s true, but I will say I don’t always ask certain questions because of the Mark Twain quote about opening your mouth and looking like a fool, so maybe there was a little bit of truth to that. I don’t even like it when my husband reads me, but that’s the poker player in him. I don’t like to be studied (just admired).

Ten years ago, I would’ve burst into tears when he pulled up my story on green living and said it was good writing, but shitty reporting (which I still don’t understand, as I had three good student quotes on things they did to be more environmentally-conscious). However, I didn’t have any pictures, and that is something I’ve learned–take your own or arrange for a photographer. Instead, a bunch of lame graphics/clipart were used, and I think that’s something we need to get away from.

But on the shitty reporting. I will be the first to admit, I am much more a writer than I am a reporter. I am still learning, but reporting includes stills and video now I still think the reporting was good, but what I gathered was that I was supposed to find someone on campus who did something outlandish to be green; I would then profile that one person, and I say, I much prefer to prearrange to interview one person than go out and get quotes from strangers. I like in-depth profiles, but where to find these people? My eyes and ears are wide open–maybe I should hang around the biology department. I don’t know. I think what I need to do is find the story, rather than write the story, and build the narrative around it.

Koretzky went into detail about all the different ways you could write for companies without being a journalism major. That would be something I would do freelance, but my primary career will be working in a hospital or clinic in an administrative capacity until my creative writing pays off (i.e. I become a best-selling novelist or win the lottery and buy a million copies of my book).

I like writing “the verities” that Pulitzer Prize-nominated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson (http://www.rhetasbooks.com/new-columns.html), who visited our Corsair class, talked about. I write the kind of writing that transcends time.

That said, I believe all kinds of writing are important, and so I want to become better. Reporting has helped me become more comfortable with others, and learn how to ask good questions. I’ve had experiences writing for the paper I would never have gotten just writing my own thing. I am not a news junkie, which I believe you must be if you want to be a journalist.

However, I wouldn’t mind writing for a newspaper as a correspondent on a freelance basis, or what I call citizen journalism.

I never have a problem with finding ideas for my writing, but for my reporting–that is a challenge.

So even though I don’t want to become a journalist, I want to become the best reporter I can become while doing it for the paper.

Koretzky helped us discover that our largest problem was communication. We don’t always make the meetings or collaborate; most of us work independently. I prefer to just write the story and let them do with it what they may. I don’t hang out in the Corsair office; I already work in an office all day during work-study. I prefer to work remotely, but I do show up for the meetings. However, I do need face-time once in awhile. The only thing that drives me crazy is when the meeting doesn’t start on time and its just dead time, wasted time.

The workshop was a good (if lengthy) experience; I learned a great deal and got more motivated. Did you know that group photos suck because they’re boring? Journalism doesn’t have to be fair. There was a great shot of a girl in the geology club climbing a rock, and it wasn’t used, but rather a posed group shot was. I am also a fan of including negative space in a photo and overlaying text in that space, because I do that with my poetry sometimes. (I call it “phoetry,” which is just a little too precious.)

One of his best lines was about talking about your own media–not someone else’s. We all discuss our favorite shows on Netflix, books we’re reading, etc. Let’s give that same attention to the content we create.

Thoughts on Writing, on Books

Dante

  1. A $6 book will provide about a 3 more hours of enjoyment than a $3 cup of coffee, but they are a match made in Heaven.
  2. You can still learn from reading bad books, even how to write a bad book, who will publish it, who will read it.  It’s okay to write horse puckey, because it sells.  Horse puckey might help keep you eating so you can write that Great American Novel.
  3. The author of a memoir is the most unreliable narrator.
  4. DVDs are clutter, books are décor.
  5. Books don’t change.  Perspective does.
  6. Stories mean something.  Even Jesus spoke in parables.
  7. Great writers don’t need to steal.  They simply find inspiration in the work of others.
  8. A great plot will keep you reading to the end; great characters will keep you re-reading.
  9. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you usually can by its synopsis.
  10. The mark of a great writer is being able to engage all of the senses.  http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/07/humans-have-a-lot-more-than-five-senses/
  11. Less is more (especially when it comes to smut and profanity).  Too much can dull the senses and be distracting.
  12. The advent of the selfie has made the whole “one picture is equal to a 1000 words” false.